With the first day of the 2019-2020 school year a little over two weeks away, staff at Enos Garcia Elementary School are scrambling to acquire essential supplies - such …
With the first day of the 2019-2020 school year a little over two weeks away, staff at Enos Garcia Elementary School are scrambling to acquire essential supplies - such as backpacks, binders and spiral notebooks - for their students in need.
Andy Greif, a nurturing navigator for Las Cumbres Community Services, a nonprofit that works with the school's students, is pursuing many possible avenues in his search for donations; he's reached out to more than 20 local churches so far.
"About 10 I've been in contact with," Greif said at his office in Enos Garcia. "The other 10 I haven't been able to get through to."
At the root of this problem, Greif noted, is the systemic poverty affecting much of the Taos community.
"At this particular school, 100 percent [of the students] qualify for free lunch," Greif said, referring to a federal program considered a bellwether for determining what percentage of the student body at a given school struggle financially. "The bottom line is that there is significant poverty."
Staff at Enos Garcia say that their supply shortage is an ongoing issue and, inevitable in a town where housing costs greatly exceed the national average, but where the average yearly income - according to data compiled by the Census Bureau - is 40 percent lower.
"Many people here are not working at a living wage," said Greif.
A living wage is a measurement used to estimate how much a family would need for a normal standard of living, and takes into account their likely minimum costs for food, child care, health insurance, housing, transportation and other basic necessities. According to a study done by MIT, the living wage in Taos County for a single adult caring for two children is $29.09 per hour.
As Siena Sanderson, the director of the Las Cumbres nurturing center at Enos Garcia, pointed out, standard wages in certain professions mean that many Taoseños who work full time remain in dire financial straits.
"If you do the math on a $9 an hour job, and you have three kids who need a $100 worth of school supplies, the numbers don't add up," said Sanderson. But parents are not the only people burdened by the cost of school supplies; and when parents are unable to provide, teachers are often forced to pay for their student's supplies out-of-pocket.
"The amount teachers spend to buy school supplies [for their students] is pretty significant," said Sanderson.
This shortage of classroom supplies is not confined to Enos Garcia, however. All three of the Taos areas public elementary schools report having this problem
"A lot of [our] students need help with that issue," said Kathy Vigil, school secretary of Ranchos De Taos Elementary. According to statistics compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, all 364 students at Ranchos Elementary qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.
Some members of the community are stepping up. It's A Small World Salon, at 101 Camino de la Placita, is also seeking donations on behalf of local schools from now through Aug. 9.
Taos Integrated School for the Arts also is collecting school supplies and has a box at the Taos News where donations can be dropped off.
Sarah Bradley, the principal of Enos Garcia, is optimistic that the community will do its best to fill the current needs.
"This community is so generous and so supportive that when you ask, people step right up to the plate," said Bradley. Enos Garcia also intends to hold a "Back to School Bash" and polo drive on Aug. 27. Sanderson and Greif remain emphatic, however, that the situation for these young students necessitates community action.
"That's what this is," Sanderson said, "A plea to the community to help these kids."
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